Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nebula Awards and Diary of a Mad Fat Girl

This is true:

"Each book has a story, or rather history. As objects, they are
tangible, tactile, solid. Their spines creak as you open them and their
pages lie as individually as a woman's hair on a pillow. So it is with
most every book....

"Not that I've anything against e-books and Kindles. Some day I'll
likely buy one and be thoroughly impressed. But can you throw it at the
cat or flatten a roach, can you hide things in it, use it as a filing
system, or dribble wax onto the back cover and stick a candle on it to
enhance the atmosphere of a faraway room and, in those flickering
shadows, make love?"

--Grant Buday, from his essay "Old Paper"http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz13432493 in the latest issue of Brick

Having been a science fiction and fantasy reader for over 40 years, I had to post this year's Nebula winners, noting that Neil Gaiman's wonderful Dr Who episode in which the TARDIS came to life in a woman's body, won the Bradbury award. Amen.

The winners of this year's Nebula Awards
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz13448386, sponsored
by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, are:

Novel: Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)
Novella: "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson
Novellette: "What We Found" by Geoff Ryman
Short Story: "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu
Bradbury: Doctor Who--"The Doctor's Wife" by Neil Gaiman, directed by
Richard Clark
Norton YA: The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)

Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee was an impulse by at the MVG library book sale, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Usually, books that purport to be about fat girls aren't about larger women at all, and while the protagonist, Ace Jones, doesn't really qualify as fat, in my opinion, being only 20 pounds overweight (which seems to just make her curvy), she does have the proper attitude toward people making assumptions about her and trying to get her to lose weight or eat foods that she finds loathsome. Ace refuses to let anyone define her or get the better of her, and she spends a lot of time in this book telling people off, especially those who deserve to be told off. She has a "chiweenie" dog named Buster Loo and an ex-boyfriend that she's still in love with named Mason. She's got a kick-arse attitude and a salty, witty mouth that seems to get her into and out of trouble in equal measure. As a literature teacher, she's got quite a bit of drama inherent in her soul, and a need for romance and independence. She also has two friends, Chloe and Lilly whom she manages, with the help of the local wealthy Southern widow, to get out of bad/abusive relationships. Of course, there's an HEA, complete with marriage proposal, but the whole point of this book is the hilarious roller-coaster ride that is the life of Ace Jones in Bugtussle, Mississippi. Highly recommended for fans of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Jennifer Wiener's Good in Bed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Aviary Gate and The Year of Pleasures

This past Mother's Day weekend, I finished reading Elizabeth Berg's "The Year of Pleasures" and Katie Hickman's "The Aviary Gate."
I've read three other books of Bergs, The Art of Mending, Talk Before Sleep and Durable Goods, but I only enjoyed The Art of Mending, so I wasn't going out of my way to find more books by Berg, really. Then I decided to put The Year of Pleasures on the reading list for my Tuesday night book group at the Maple Valley Library, and figured I could get a leg up by reading it before next month's meeting. I am so glad I did, because Berg's magnificent prose and strong characters kept me turning pages into the wee hours. The story is about Betta Nolan, a woman who was in one of those "once in a lifetime" relationships where the love is so strong between two soulmates that they become a world unto themselves and don't fraternize with friends or relatives. While this exclusionary life seems idylic at first, I think it became evident to Betta that, once her husband died of cancer, she was left heartbroken and depressed because she had no one to talk to about her grief and her decision to move to the Midwest.
It seems Betta and her late husband had discussed moving from Boston to a small town in the Midwest to retire and perhaps run a store together for fun one day, so Betta feels compelled to keep that promise, though she has no idea how to fulfill her vision of creating a new life without her husband. This seemed the only major flaw in Betta, as far as I could tell, but it was a huge one, in that she seemed so helpless and clueless without a man in her life. Still, when Betta drives to Stewart, Illinois, and finds the house of her dreams, everything seems to fall into place for her, including having an adorable neighbor boy come to help her, she reconnects with her college buddies and even makes friends with the stout real estate agent, though she acts snobbish about weight throughout the book (which only makes her seem more unstable and unlikable).
Having grown up in small towns in Iowa my whole life, the characters and their actions toward a new widow in town rang true to me, and I was delighted that Berg made mention of how cheaply one can live in small Midwestern towns vs big cities. Berg's prose is golden, and I'd recommend this to anyone who has had to start life over after the death of a loved one.
I am looking forward to the discussion next month with my fellow bibliophiles at the library!

The Aviary Gate was an impulse buy from the book sale rack a the library, as it has a 'chick lit' kind of cover, with a sultry woman in harem silks staring our from a painting with a doleful gaze.
Like AS Byatt's Possession, this book tells the tale of an Englishwoman, Celia Lamprey, who is taken after a shipwreck into a sultans harem as a concubine, or sex slave, surrounded by cutthroat harem women and eunnuchs who plan on using Celia for their own agenda. Meanwhile, in present day, a young woman finds one of Celia's letters in an old manuscript and goes on a hunt for more information about Celia and her long lost fiance, the merchant Paul Pindar. Apparently they were both in Constantinople (in the 16th century) at the same time, so Celia attempted to do the unthinkable and see her fiance one more time before giving herself to the sultan, who is described as a grotesque, obese bully.
I was surprised by the high quality prose in this book, and by the swift and intelligently-formed plot. The characters are all beautifully drawn, created in such a way that the reader cares for them and their fates, though we realize that not all of them will meet a good end. Though we are left wondering whether or not Celia and Paul ever did meet, the author still manages to come to a complete ending that is satisfying and heartfelt. I'd recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction and historical romantic fiction.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Tribute to a Bookstore

This could be a tribute to most of the bookstores that I frequent, and have become involved with over the past 47 years since I learned to read at age 4. I believe most bibliophiles would agree that bookstores and libraries are holy places for us, the fierce book lovers of the world.

In honor of Broadway Books, author Brian Doyle offered the following tribute:

I was in my favorite independent bookstore in Oregon recently, pawing
through the produce and surreptitiously looking to see if the
proprietesses had left any unattended cookies, when I had A Roaring
Epiphany. I realized that the store was a village green for ideas. A
story-common. A crossroads for voices and songs and debates and
memories. A chapel filled with ink. A pub without beer, mostly. I have
seen dogs reading graphic novels there. I have seen people laugh and
weep. I have seen people hug the proprietesses when said proprietesses
found or suggested Exactly the Right Book for the left-handed
Samoan-American boxing-maniac great-grandmother with a Sarah Palin
tattoo on one bicep and Dave Eggers on the other. I have heard poets
chant there. I have heard small children reading aloud, the coolest
sound in the world. I have heard nutty essayists shouting and telling
lewd stories with high glee and burble. I have seen a child buy a book
and sit down on the floor and start reading it immediately. I have seen
young people read their own work aloud for the first time in their whole
blessed lives. I have seen the proprietors work twelve hours a day. They
have worked awfully hard for inconsiderable coin for twenty years. They
are story ambassadors. They are hope agents. They are imagineers and
dream-merchants. They embrace technology and figure how to dance with
it. They are word-shepherds and story-savers. They do brave crucial
nutritious amazing necessary holy work. If no one savored and treasured
and bought and sold and swapped and talked and argued about books in
little cool energetic flavorful cheerful clean entertaining bookstores
owned by the people who run them then we would starve for all sorts of
lost books and stories and we would have only stories yelled at us from
screens and stories sold to us by cold pollsters and that would be a
reduction and dilution of the nation and species we are. If we did not
have independent bookstores we would be even more herded prey to the
most brilliant marketers among us than we are now and that would be a
great shame. We do not publicly laud and shout our praise for the
crucial work of independent booksellers as much as we should. But today
I will. Today, after twenty years of Broadway Books, I take the rare
chance of speaking for my fellow writers, and my fellow readers, and my
fellow citizens, when I say hey, Broadway Books, thanks, and hey,
cheerful brave proprietesses, thanks, for your hard work, and brave
insistence on story, and witty generosity, and the cookies. Well done.
Very well done. Is there any more beer?

Brian Doyle is a Portland author who has many times been allowed to
chant, sing, shout, mutter, mumble, burble, stutter, shamble, amble,
grumble, stammer, shout, whisper, guffaw, and giggle in the friendly
confines of Broadway Books, in Portland, Ore., long may it wave.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Sookie Stackhouse and a Witty Harper Lee

I love Harper Lee, and I sincerely wish I'd have had the chance to meet her, I imagine we'd have gotten along like a house on fire:

Quotation of the Day

Harper Lee: 'Problem Is One of Illiteracy, Not Marxism'

"Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a
Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code
of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of
all Southerners. To hear that the novel is 'immoral' has made me count
the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better
example of doublethink.

"I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism.
Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that
I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any
first grade of its choice."

--Harper Lee, in a 1966 letter

to the Richmond, Va., News Leader in response to the Hanover County
School Board's decision to remove her novel from school libraries,
alleging that its contents were "immoral."

My book group is reading "The Graveyard Book" in October, and I am hoping they'll enjoy it as much as I did.  From Shelf Awareness:

Disney "made a high six-figure deal" for Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard
the ghoulish riff on Kipling's Jungle Book, according to Deadline.com.
Henry Selick (Coraline) will direct the project, which is "a priority
for the studio."

Yum! Bacon and books, two of my favorite things!

Cool Carnivorous Idea of the Day: Bacon in a Bookstore

How about some bacon brownies, chocolate coconut bacon or white
chocolate bacon pretzel rods? Books of Wonder
children's bookstore in New York City
"is playing host to the Baconery
a previously online-only outfit that specializes in bacon-themed
sweets," Page Views reported.

Jonathan Drucker, the bookshop's marketing manager, said the partnership
will allow Baconery proprietor Wesley Klein full use of shop's
café kitchen. Drucker hopes this will become a "permanent
arrangement," though he admits the bacon production does cause a "rather
unctuous" smell in parts of the store, Page Views noted.

Finally, I just finished Charlaine Harris' "Deadlocked" the 12th Sookie Stackhouse novel in her body of work. I was a huge fan of Sookie books until that dreadful "True Blood" series came to HBO, starring Anna Paquin, who isn't even buxom or really pretty enough to be Sookie, and some other actors inappropriately cast in what is just an excuse to get paranormal pornography onto TV. Ever since True Blood, Harris' books have read like screenplays just waiting for a scriptwriter to condense them for TV. Sookie isn't as smart as she used to be, and the other characters seem more one-dimensional as well. Still, I keep reading the books because I keep hoping that Harris will quit phoning it in and get back to making Sookie the charming young woman we've come to know, instead of a gore-spattered, back-woods nymphette.
I gather that the next book will be the last in the Sookie series, and I suppose that is why this book tied up a lot of loose ends in previous plots. We learn that Eric isn't really a good match for Sookie because he's loves power and ambition more than he loves her (I could have told you that several books ago) and that the Fairies are duplicitous and cunning, while Sookie's boss, Sam, is a wonderful shapeshifter who has terrible taste in mates (something else I could have told you several books ago). I hope that, now with the Fae situation sorted, that Sookie will end up with Bill Compton, because of all the men she's been involved with, he's been the one who cared for her the most. At any rate, Deadlocked was a fast and fun read, though somewhat dumbed down, and I recommend it to all Sookie fans who want to know what really motivates the 'supes' in Sookie's life.